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Green Party Preferences: How It Works

March 28, 2011

One measure of Labor’s defeat in Saturday’s state election was the drying up of Green Party preferences.

The Green Party opted not to allocate preferences to the ALP in the Upper House and with a few exceptions – I think my information is right on this score – did not distribute a how-to-vote with a number two allocation to the ALP for the Lower House. In cases where it did (for example, in Nathan Rees’ seat of Toongabbie) a high proportion of Green Party voters still only cast a number one vote and gave nothing to the ALP.

Yet I recall state elections where the Green Party had no choice but to allocate preferences to Labor, because:

      • Labor’s record on environmental issues was so compelling
      • Green Party voters were going to preference the ALP anyway, no matter what their party recommended

    Indeed in electorates where the Green Party did not allocate preferences, Labor found in the 1999 and 2003 state elections the majority of voters voting Green Party insisted on putting a number two in the ALP box.

    It was not only our unambiguous record on saving the forests. It was the general image of a government that had elevated public education, never had an ICAC finding against it, or a resignation over ministerial behaviour, championed embryonic stem cell research when John Howard tried to close it off, supported a medically supervised injecting room as an evidence-based experiment and eliminated the bias against same-sex relationships in property law.

    In the last four years when Labor, through the fault of one individual, allowed itself to be touched by the stench of Wollongong Council, allowed a handful of ministers to talk about a “brown” agenda and scorned support for the arts and for arts industries – well, Labor’s natural affinity for Green Party-inclined voters was surrendered.

    In this election in one electorate a sympathetic Green Party official told a Labor candidate that if they did produce a how-to-vote card recommending a number two for Labor, local Green Party members would refuse to hand it out. This is a big contrast with the situation in 1995 when my government was elected in a very close result with preferences from Green Party candidates who recognised Labor had identical policies with them on nature conservation. In 1999 and 2003 my government was re-elected having delivered even more than we had promised on nature conservation. It made us damn near irresistible when it came to second preferences.

    On Thursday last week I hit Keira, a Wollongong electorate, to stand next to Labor candidate Ryan Park and make a bid for Green Party preferences. The Green Party was not directing preferences on its ballot paper. I said:

      If you think the environment is important, your ‘number two’ vote ought to at the very least come back to the Labor Party.

    Ryan Park was elected with Green Party preferences breaking five to one his way.

    There’s a lesson in this for my Labor Party colleagues. From the time of Bill McKell (who declared the Kosciusko National Park in the middle of the Second World War) and Neville Wran (who saved the rain forests of northern NSW) to my years, we have performed best electorally by taking an active, intelligent pro-environment direction.

  1. Daniel permalink
    March 28, 2011 5:30 pm

    I think your going too deep with it all Bob. It was a case I think of the ALP being the lesser of the 2 evils.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      March 28, 2011 5:57 pm

      So ?

      Why was it not seen as the lesser of two evils this time ?

      That’s my point.

  2. tonk permalink
    March 28, 2011 6:04 pm

    Sadly, Bob you are right. The ALP had a pretty good record regarding the creation of new NPWS reserves from 1995-2005. Apart from the Redgums decision of 2010, this legacy was seen to wilt, then largely be forgotten.
    I rang Greens head office to see who we were preferencing in the upper house, and was a little surprised to find out we weren’t preferencing anyone. The reason given was that Labor’s record in recent years, particularly playing footsie with the Shooter’s Party was enough to disqualify any possible Greens support.
    I gave my preference to my local Labor MP, but he still went down. We didn’t scrutineer locally, so not sure how the preferences flowed. The other Greens I talked to, gave the ALP their preference.

  3. Daniel permalink
    March 28, 2011 6:07 pm

    I think Bob you will find that the Greens this time just could could not support a Government that had turned internally to look and focus on itself instead of the issues that matter to NSW residents.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      March 28, 2011 6:36 pm

      Yes, that’s my point. Whereas in elections past they felt we were clearly preferable to the Coalition.

      That’s the challenge I’m putting to my party – think about the total mix that makes Green Party voters feel they just have to preference you whether their party machine recommends it not. That’s the way it worked under me, pal. It is there in the results.

  4. Lewis permalink
    March 28, 2011 7:03 pm

    It’s sad that they have sacrificed their preferences in favour of some political tactic. The huge majority that O’Farrell sits on now in the lower house, and the coalition of right-of-centres in the upper house, is a consequence of Green political manuevering. I know that Strathfield would have benefited greatly from the Greens preferences, and I have no doubt that it would have been the case elsewhere. The Greens need to decide whether they’d rather make a political “statement” or promote a parliament with a left-leaning, compassionate agenda.

    • March 28, 2011 9:31 pm

      Really? You don’t think that the huge majority that Bazz O’Shaz sits on is the fault of Labor? That it is the Greens fault instead? What planet are you viewing from?

      At least Bob Carr is looking constructively at how the NSW Labor might rebuild. That other Labor supporters are in such denial does not bode well.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        March 28, 2011 9:37 pm

        I spell out how my party caused its own defeat in the article I wrote for The Australian, reproduced on this blog under the heading It Did Not Have to be This Bad.

      • Lewis permalink
        March 28, 2011 11:26 pm

        Look, I completely agree that the fault lies solely with the party itself. There’s no doubt that an election this bleak is because of our own failings not the political tactics of the Greens. But you look at a seat like Balmain, where a Liberal James Falk came strikingly close to winning the seat because Greens and Labor preferences exhausted rather than fed on to the other party, and you see the borderline zero-sum-game that is happening between the Greens and Labor.

  5. Christopher Axtens permalink
    March 28, 2011 7:07 pm

    I am positively curious about this complaint about Greens’ non-application of the 2nd preference vote. That being that if the ALP really wishes to get Greens’ 2nd preferences at state elections it surely must change the electoral law,established during Mr Wran’s 1978-1981 term of office(1980 to be exact), so that there is COMPULSORY preferential voting in place in New South Wales. It has been noted that OPTIONAL preferential voting has been the system used here in N.S.W. since 1980. A system that needs to be changed from “Optional” to “compulsory”. Especially now that some of the more narky and sinister elements in the Greens Party,especially those whom have relocated to the N.S.W. far north coast, are manipulating this OPV system to make stands on principle against both major parties on issues like “broken promises regarding return of recently removed train services” and the non-policing of logging operations in N-E NSW rainforest areas. One aspect behind the Greens’ Vote 1 Green then nothing policy that I,as a north coast local elections observer since 1984,find annoying is the arrogant bullying of local greens voters and supporters by former North East Forests Alliance officials John Corkill and Dilan Pugh in insisting upon the newly arrived Southern Cross University attending voters to Vote 1 Green then deliberately exhaust the vote by not registering a 2nd,3rd,4th etc preference. The 20+ percent vote measures for the Greens in Ballina and Lismore are due to facts like the Labor candidate in Ballina making no attempt to do any on-the-ground campaigning in that electorate AND the campaign manager for Andrew Moy,Lismore’s ALP candidate, disenfranchising many people in the branches within the Lismore electorate by his regimented,high school principal hands-on, campaign management approach. It is also worth pointing out that many of the Vote 1 then nothing advocates who are located in North East NSW are actually ex-pats from Melbourne and the Greens candidate in Lismore Sue Stock served a few terms on a suburban Sydney local government ward SO the destructive manipulation of the OVP system is actually being carried from suburban Sydney areas to “greenbelt” areas in the Byron-Nimbin section of the state. Not that it made any impact on the security of tenure for National Party sitting MPs Don Page & Thomas George in each of the 1999,2003,2007 and 2011 elections BUT it made a telling impact on Labor’s failure to retain Clarence in 2003 and Tweed in 2007. I AM ENJOYING YOUR ANTI-GREENS COMMENTARIES BOB! More is the pity that hardly any of the commonsensical points raised in them won’t be seen by the people who should be looking at them whenever they go to the library resources sections of Southern Cross University and University of New England.

    • Janet Cavanaugh permalink
      April 3, 2011 7:01 pm

      I wish to dispel the notion that a ‘destructive manipulation of the OPV system’ led to Labor’s failure to retain Clarence in 2003. It makes a nice tall story but the figures don’t support it.

      In fact, The Greens did preference Labor at that election in their HTV ticket.

      However, a significant proportion of voters who put Greens ahead of the major parties (230 to be exact) decided to preference the Nationals candidate ahead of Labor contrary to the HTV. It’s their choice, after all.

      Even if every one of the 1133 exhausted votes from that last preference distribution of Mark Purcell’s votes had flowed to Labor, the Labor candidate could not have won given this leakage to the Nationals. Cansdell’s winning margin after the final allocation of preferences was 1173.

  6. Peter Pando permalink
    March 28, 2011 9:57 pm

    Dear Mr Carr,

    It has long been a puzzle to me how this environmental agenda, which I don’t deny is strong in specific senses, is reconciled with the pro-construction, urban consolidation and apparently anti-backyard aspect of ALP planning policy in NSW. I think the result is that it has appeared as though the Party has wanted to separate wilderness and nature entirely from the human habitat, which would presumably be as modernist as possible. Alot of people in Australia like forests, fields and open sky rather than highrise and concrete paths. Of course the quarter-acre block, with a garden and the wildlife a garden attracts, is still a dream for very many of us – indeed, even the Koran promises gardens with flowing water to the Muslim faithful. Considering that point, it is somewhat ironic that a deep love of natural Australia also produces resistance to high immigration policies, because massive increases in population are used to justify the urban consolidation and mass development which threatens to take so much of this amenity from suburbs – and often does. It’s the time-honoured debate between natural ‘purity’, wilderness for its own sake and so on, versus human adaptation and meshing our power with nature more harmoniously. As isolation from nature can have a deleterious effect on human respect for it, you’d think that pro-environment would mean pro-suburbia, but NSW planning just didn’t seem to be headed that direction under Labor.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      March 29, 2011 6:19 am

      Peter, you run immigration at the recent frenetic level and you lose backyards. You can’t double immigration in the space of five years and not see more apartment dwelling. Pump more people in, and the city goes out and up. Where do you think people will be accommodated ? In underground caverns, like the Nibelungen in Wagner ?

      • Peter Pando permalink
        March 29, 2011 10:37 am

        Dear Mr Carr,

        Yes, that’s the clear question, and it makes the high-immigration/mass-construction policy feedback loop appear to be a scheme hatched by immigration agents, developers, and even political agents from over-populated countries, to feed and expand themselves and create an imported political cult-following to sing their praises in the Gallery. The legislative complicity in taking planning powers from local councils compounds that appearance in a deeply anti-democratic way. To attempt to impose guilt upon ‘conservatives’ for history whilst committing what is essentially the same act upon them in the name of higher immigration is obviously on one level a rhetorical tactic used for economic purposes. In the broader scheme, though, it was recognised for what it truly is a long time ago. Yes, inter-cultural envy works to generate loyal, possibly even ‘prejudiced’, voters, but it’s essentially demagogic rather than democratic, and as a consequence if it wins it does so at a very terrible cultural, environmental and environmental cost. Australia would almost certainly not survive if it had to bear it. We all know this, and without wanting to be too oblique, the constitutional solution is illusory, solving nothing and creating such a headache if it occurs that it wouldn’t be worth implementing it.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        March 29, 2011 10:53 am

        All planning systems ever devised give a role to the state or national government. You cannot leave everything to local councils. Everything would come to a halt. No industry or high density or large shopping centers or big infrastructure would ever be approved. The question is what circumstances and what category of development needs local and what state approval.

  7. Daniel permalink
    March 28, 2011 10:41 pm

    Well Bob I think that lots withing Labor and not that interested in reform. I heard Joel Fitzgibbon and he was in total denial that this meant anything to Gillard going forward. She needs to really put the boot into Dastyari and the Sussex st factional warlords.

  8. March 29, 2011 1:48 pm

    It’s been a long time since the protest at Look At Me Now Headland. Its been a long time since the declaration of the Solitary Island Marine Park…the first in New South Wales. It’s been a long time since the first successful effluent re-use program was initiated. These were things that some of us fought tooth and nail for but they were realised when Labor took office under Bob Carr.

    As Kristina Keneally said…”The people didn’t leave Labor. Labor left the people.” Labor also left the environment. It’s an old saw but so often true…The Liberal Coalition didn’t win government, Labor lost it. They embarrassed us. Let’s hope they’ve learned.

  9. Peter Pando permalink
    March 31, 2011 6:45 am

    Dear Mr Carr,

    Politicians generally need to know whose side they’re on, and whose side they appear to be on. Before Australia was conquered the Eora had no building construction in the sense we have it, but they had the natural environment. Along came all those beaut sandstone buildings with a penal colony attached. Yet the natural environment persisted, although Aboriginal people had to intensify their usage of it and reconfigure their territorial power arrangements. The European structures imposed on their landscape no doubt looked as oppressive as a five storey unit block in a suburban street, the signal of a different culture’s arrival and the impending doom of the old configuration. The flood of people that followed therefore justifies every stage of resistance to the British occupation, at very least in the eyes of some modern aboriginal politics. Perhaps the Greens understand this aspect of indigenous liberation ecology better than Labor, and realised how talismanic and environmentally-valuable quarter-acre blocks can be. Perhaps the construction faction’s employment of penal history blinded the broader party to the reality of whose side they were on. Your response that the big projects wouldn’t be approved by a local council isn’t necessarily true, and might be indicative of one reason why the electoral boot changed foot. As in 1788, resistance to the modern over-populous settlers and resentment of their local facilitators is bound to manifest one way or another. Politicians really need to know whose side they’re on, and whose side they appear to be on, and Labor either forgot this or in enjoying the spoils of high immigration and development didn’t care. Whatever. There’s one other factor that must be accounted for – deliberate bloc-vote swinging by groups who want to destabilise and disorientate the central think-tanks of the two major parties in order to further their own aims, perhaps reflecting this new influx of settlers so comfortably accommodated.

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